Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
15 Mar 2005
Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen
Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera’s revival of Francisco Negrin’s production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of “Rodelinda”) is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, “Ich Habe Genug”, reviewed elsewhere.
Copenhagen Opera House
High Flying Singing: Copenhagen's Baroque Feast
Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera's revival of Francisco Negrin's production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of "Rodelinda") is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, "Ich Habe Genug", reviewed elsewhere.
This taking over of Copenhagen by the men who sing high was augmented by two others: Chris Robson, also reprising his acting tour de force in the role of Tolomeo alongside Scholl, and a fascinating newcomer to the European opera scene in the form of young Michael Maniaci, a true male soprano in the small but pivotal role of Nireno. He was one of only two cast members new to the production, the other being John Lundgren as Curio. Once again, Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducted the baroque orchestra Concerto Copenhagen, this time more fully equipped in the horn section and sounding more comfortable in the most demanding of Handel's intricacies.
From a box-office point of view, this was a revival to ensure good returns on a known success story and it did not fail to come up with the goods in that department. Vocally too, the entire returning cast of Scholl, Inger Dam Jensen (Cleopatra), Randi Stene (Cornelia), Tuva Semmingsen (Sesto), Palle Knudsen (Achilla) all sounded far more in concert with both staging and each other, and many of the first-run lacunae have been filled or re-jigged to work more smoothly. However, it was also obvious that this staging still has its limitations and oddities that strike an uncomfortable note - the dead shark's appearance to loud audience laughter just prior to the emotionally-draining aria from an imprisoned Cornelia is still a dramatic disaster, whilst some of the more obvious visual jokes pall quickly.
Vocally, the stand outs were Semmingsen and Scholl. The young mezzo has matured vocally and dramatically and now makes a stunningly effective Sesto, showing great understanding of Handelian sensibilities yet also displaying confident cadenzas and ornaments all her own. She is lucky to have the build and features that adapt well to this part, and should be able to take this role almost anywhere in the world, should she wish to. Scholl's many fans were not disappointed by his performances during the first week - his renowned tone and technique, not to mention upstanding physique, fit this role extremely well, and there were some glorious moments once he had warmed up. If his "Aure, deh per pieta" lacked a little in legato silkiness compared to the first run, his singing in "Se Infiorito", the "duet" with the violinist on stage, was particularly elegant, charming and effortlessly virtuosic and also showed that he is now, at this stage of his career, beginning to feel more comfortable on the opera stage. A slight tendency to wave the hands around in moments of high emotion remains, but overall this was a much more satisfying dramatic performance than three years ago.
One young singer who will not have any such concerns on the dramatic front is Michael Maniaci - at 28 years old he is already showing an amazing ability to hold the eye whilst doing virtually nothing on the stage, coupled with an exciting strong true male soprano voice that promises much in roles written for the higher castratos of Handel's time. He has already had significant successes in such roles and as Monteverdi's Nerone in the United States (Wolf Trap, Glimmerglass, Chicago Opera Theatre ) as well as a much-discussed Cherubino at Pittsburg, and this was his European debut in a large house. Unlike in the original production three years ago, Nireno's one aria in Act 2 "Chi pede un momento" has been restored for Maniaci to sing, and he took full advantage of this opportunity. If the voice was still a little unfocused and uncontrolled from time to time, he showed excellent intonation, strength and true colour. One could look forward to hearing him in the title role of a major production Xerxes one day, and certainly as Sesto in the near future. Could this voice be the next big thing on the baroque opera scene, in the way that Daniels was a decade ago? Certainly it is an exciting prospect to whet the appetite of aficionados of the genre.
© Sue Loder 2005